Recovering from Simchat Torah and the chagim while enjoying the cooler temperatures after a scorching summer, I sat contemplating our changing seasons and our recently completed weekly parashat Bereishit. My mind wandered to the cycles of the year, animals’ instincts and humans’ freedom of choice … and then to Chip ‘n Dale.
I remember so clearly that Chip ‘n Dale cartoon where they begin to prepare for the long winter ahead by gathering up acorns. Chip takes it all very seriously, working up a sweat as he carries the acorns one by one into their home, until he discovers Dale sleeping as he toils. After explaining to Dale that it’s October, he emphasizes that they must accumulate all the food they can now, otherwise in December when it is freezing they will starve. Dale being Dale doesn’t really get it and eats almost as much as he is meant to be finding. However, all’s well that ends well … and for those who are worried or who don’t remember, or are too young to have seen the cartoon, Chip ‘n Dale get the better of Donald Duck and store away enough food for the winter.
Part of the amusing element of the story is Dale’s character which doesn’t really exist in the animal world, where instinct is the key to survival. The animals know instinctively that if they don’t store away food in the autumn they very likely will die of starvation in the winter. No Swiss bank accounts or inheritances to rely on. With no thought process, they don’t rationalise what might be, or justify procrastination … they just get on with their task.
Humans on the other hand, with our Divine gift of thought and free will are masters of rationalization and procrastination! And we can rationalize and procrastinate all we like, but that doesn’t change the fact that accumulating resources to survive high expense and/or lean times (eg unemployment, disability, retirement etc) needs to be done within both an annual cycle and a lifetime cycle.
Let’s start by focussing on the annual cycle. This time of year (in much of the animal kingdom too) is the perfect time to sit down and plan the winter months, and save for the months with higher expenses. With the chagim and all their inherent expenses behind us, and with a lull in our holiday year until Pesach comes around with all its expenditure, now is the perfect time to ensure that our annual resources (salaries etc) will be enough to get us through the entire year. Monthly spending naturally ebbs and flows during the course of the year. The winter months, with fewer holidays and special events, are usually less expensive than the summer months. And the weather even helps lower spending, as staying home is much more appealing – and cheap! – when it is cold and wet outside. It is critical to look at your expected budget for the entire year and ensure that you are putting away enough money in the down months to cover your increased spending at other times of the year. Otherwise you might well spend everything you earn in the quiet months and then find yourself running a major deficit when spending increases later. Here are some critical steps to help you get started:
- Make sure you know what your standard monthly expenses are so you know what your base line is.
- Create a list of all major annual expenses (“annual supplement”) that are not included in your standard budget. Include insurance payments, vacations, extra activities and of course a sum to help cover unexpected events.
Divide by 12 the total that you reached in step 2 above, and you will have created your monthly “annual supplement” that needs to be included in your budget, even in those quiet winter months. So if your “annual supplement” is 3,000 nis a month, then ensure you have that amount in your budget so that you are putting away that sum monthly even when there are no actual expenses.
If you haven’t built a budget and can’t manage to do it yourself, ask either a friend or a professional to help you. It is crucial for your survival. If you do have a budget then now is the time to ‘tweak’ it if you haven’t already done so to prioritize what you want to spend your resources on.
Keeping the annual cycle in mind can help you avoid major financial pitfalls. Just keep remembering that ‘Chip’ instinct – there really is no alternative. Humans may be a higher form of life than animals, but we still have much to learn from the animal kingdom.
Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers, says it slightly differently than Chip ‘n Dale – whoever works before Shabbat will eat on Shabbat. Whether you use the more traditional or the animated version – the message is the same. BeHatzlacha.